Take No Prisoners

The Real Story Behind Obama Winning the Nobel Peace Prize

Last week, U.S. President Barrack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Right-wing pundits predictably attacked him for it. Left-wing pundits predictably then attacked the right-wing pundits for it. But that’s not the story.

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of five prizes bequeathed by Alfred Nobel. In his will, it said that the Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who “during the preceding year […] shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” In this case, the “preceding year” is 2008.

Obama was inaugurated as U.S. President on January 20th, 2009. (more…)

Five Things that Make Gyms a Plague Upon Fitness

You would think that a fitness center, of all places, would be exempt from the lethargic malaise that pervades western society. In most cases, you would be mistaken. The modern gym is a plague upon fitness. That’s right, the very place we go to improve our health is practically custom-made to prevent us from exercising effectively. Here are five things that are horribly wrong with most modern gyms, and how to fix them.

1. No Pain, No Gain

The Problem


6 Reasons Western Morality is so Confused

You know a conversation is headed sideways when the topic turns to morals and ethics. For any major social issue of our time – gay marriage, women’s reproductive rights, freedom of speech, religion in public schools, even climate change – you can find normally reasonable people who reach contradictory conclusions on the ethical choice. In this post, I explain six reasons for this moral confusion.

1. Most Moral Reasoning is Arbitrary

Most people seem to think of morality as simply (more…)

Top 10 Injury Causing Machines in Gyms

A typical modern gym houses hundreds of individual pieces of exercise equipment, some of which appear purposefully designed to injure as many trainees as possible. Here are ten of the most dangerous exercise machines. Avoid these, and avoid any so-called personal trainer who recommends them.

1. Smith Machine


A smith machine is just a bar built into an apparatus that restricts the bar to a vertical path, and sometimes prevents it from tipping sideways. Smith machines are dangerous because they lock the lifter into a vertical or near-vertical straight-line bar path. The smith machine can be safely used for short range-of-motion exercises such as shrugs and calf raises, where the natural bar path is close to vertical. However, for any compound lift such as a bench press, overhead press, squat or deadlift, the natural bar path is not a straight line. By interfering with your natural (and optimal!) movement, the smith machine increases the stress on your joints and stabilizer muscles. I tore ligaments in both my shoulders using a smith machine for overhead presses.

2. Leg Extension

leg extension

As you extend your leg into the locked-knee position, your shin bone rotates slightly. Leg extension machines interfere with this rotation. This puts unnecessary stress on the knee joint and can cause the knee cap to grind against the femur. Moreover, the quadriceps evolved to assist in running and jumping movements, not to provide torque against a rotating force.

3. Bent-arm Laterals Machine


Doing dumbbell laterals with your arms straight (but not locked) is reasonably safe and beneficial exercise. However, bending your arms, as this machine forces you to do, dramatically increases the stress on your rotator cuff and can lead to tears. The small muscles and tendons comprising the rotator cuff heal slowly and are difficult to rehabilitate.

4. Cable Row

Cable Row

Rows are a great exercise; however, rowing machines almost always suffer from the same problem. At the beginning of the exercise, you have to reach so far forward to grasp the handles that you inevitably overextend your lower back. This can damage your spine, the nerve cluster in your lower back, and your spinal erectors (the small muscles that hold your lower back straight. These are the sorts of injuries that don’t get better.

Suggestion: use a piece of chain and carabiners to bring the handles closer to you, or get someone to pull down on the cable so you can get into position safely.

5. “Ergonomic” Benches

ergo bench

The thing about ergonomics is that it has to be personalized to your body. These so-called ergonomic benches make assumptions about your height, weight, proportions, limb length, etc. Unless your body happens to fit these (often restrictive) assumptions, you’re out of luck. I can feel the benches in the above picture interfering with my shoulder movement. They also encourage taller people to move too close to the uprights (thus press to linearly) and encourage shorter people to move too far away from the uprights (thus endangering the shoulder in the initial lift). All of this serves to corrupt one’s pressing motion and endanger the shoulders, elbows and wrists.

6. The Pec Deck

pec deck

This sort of pec deck puts your shoulders in the inner dislocation position and can tear the shoulder ligaments or the rotator cuff.

7. Ab Twisters

Ab Twister

The spine is not meant to twist. Twisting the spine can damage the disks between your vertebrae. The kind of spinal twists they do in Yoga (slow, controlled stretches) are probably ok, but twisting against resistance encourages a faster and more violent movement that’s significantly more dangerous.

8. Ab Crunch Machines

crunch machine

Crunches do stimulate growth in the rectus abdominis (the six-pack); however, the full crunching your abs also full flexes your spinal erectors, putting maximum pressure on your lower back. Over time, this damages the disks in your back. Besides, most people’s abs are invisible not because they’re ill-developed but because their percentage body fat is too high. If you want your abs to show, hit the treadmill, not the crunch machine.

Suggestion: Composite exercises such as squats and pushups work your abs the way they were intended to work – as stabilizers. If you must do an ab-specific exercise, try the plank position.

9. Standing Calf Raise

calf raise

The calf is a very strong muscle. Working both calves at the same time on a standing calf raise can involve hundreds of pounds in a normal person, and over 1000 lbs. in a very strong person. This kind of weight compresses the spine, breaks blood vessels in the shoulders, and generally puts a lot of strain on joints. Standing calf raise machines often encourage this sort of practice because they often come with signs showing a two-leg movement.

Suggestion: Do calf raises one leg at a time. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and a post to keep you steady in the other.

10. The Decline Bench

decline bench

The decline bench is a shoulder-wrecker if there ever was one. Pressing on a decline bench puts extreme pressure on the shoulder joint and surrounding stabilizer muscles, meanwhile making it nearly impossible to press the weight in the natural back-toward-your-head arc. The slant of the board encourages the lifter to push from the shoulder instead of the chest, and to let the shoulders ride “up” (toward the head) when they should be rotating “down” and back (toward the feet). The decline bench is just an exercise clusterfuck. It’s biomechanical voodoo. Don’t use it.

Suggestion: If you must work specifically on your lower pecs, try a parallel bar dip. However, avoid an extreme range of motion (dropping past the point where your upper arms are parallel to the ground) or this too will put exaggerated stresses on the shoulder. (Note: never do dips behind your back – these endanger the rotator cuff.)


If you’ve used one of the machines profiled above for years without injury, consider yourself lucky it hasn’t hurt you yet and quit now! Yes, smoking hasn’t killed you yet either, but that doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. I am not a doctor; check with yours before starting a new workout program. Don’t just switch to free weights if you have no idea what you’re doing. Find a good book on weight training (The Insider’s Tell-All Handbook on Weight Training Technique, for example) and read it before you beat yourself up.

Related Posts

BS Forms of Exercise and their Athletic Alternatives
Gain 34 lbs of Muscle in 28 Days – How? Double Leg Amputation?

Golden Rule FAIL – Top 6 Examples Where Reciprocity Does Not Apply

The golden rule, AKA The Ethic of Reciprocity is at the very heart of Christian thinking. (Not that Christians actually practice it, but that’s a rant for another time). However, “do to others what you would like to be done to you” suffers from an obvious logical flaw: not everyone wants to be treated the same way! Here are six situations where treating others the way you’d like to be treated is a recipe for disaster.

6. Crime

Suppose one day I lost my shit and murdered someone. If, shortly after, I realized that this was a terrible mistake and was sorry, I would like to be forgiven, given a warm hug and let go. I suspect most criminals would appreciate the same treatment. You may think that you would want to be thrown in prison if you broke the law, but if you do, I suspect that you’ve never seen the inside of a federal prison. In North Korea. Empathy is crucial to our justice system, but basing the prosecution of criminals entirely on the Golden Rule would be disastrous.

5. Euthanasia

Some people want to hang on to every last moment of life, no matter what the cost. Other people are terrified of becoming a vegetable, losing their independence in old age, the pain of dying slowly, or the indignity of losing their minds. Asking the family of a suffering person ‘what should be done?’ is ripe for golden-rule-failure. It’s not about what the family wants. It’s about the individual. If every day hurts, you should have the option to end those days, if you so choose.

4. Good Sportsmanship

On a different note, remember the guys in high school who always wanted to play rough? And did so, regardless of who else was on the field/court/etc.? Were you one of those guys? I believe their logic (if you could call it that) went something like ‘Sports are SUPPOSED to be rough, so that’s how I’ll play.’ Except not everyone likes to play rough. Forcing your style on unwilling partners is just as bad as facing your bullshit beliefs on unwilling atheists (more on this below).

3. Homosexuality

Well-meaning (albeit ignorant) parents of out or suspected gay and lesbian children sometimes want to “cure” them because they think of homosexuality as a disease. I’ve never met a gay person who wanted to be so cured. Sending potentially gay youths, or anyone else for that matter, to Jesus Camp for rehab is more likely to instil mental disease than change sexual orientation. Going to one of these anti-gay camps would be an zealous assault on a person’s mentally and emotionally stability. But if you’re an ignorant, amoral, evangelical whackjob, you think the ends justify the means. Golden Rule FAIL.

2. Differences between men and women

At the risk of overgeneralizing, men and women expect and desire to be treated differently. If an attractive young woman walks up to a man in a bar, takes a firm hold of his ass and tells him she wants to take him home for the night, some guys will immediately escort her home, some will politely refuse, but practically none will slap her across the face and charge her with sexual harassment. In contrast, if a man squeezes a strange woman’s butt in a bar and propositions her, most women will not take it well, no matter how much of a pretty boy he is. Put more simply, imagine someone actually using this logic: “I would love it if she pinned me down and had sex with me, so I’ll pin her down and have sex with her.” Golden Rule FAIL!

1. Religions

These unrepentant simpletons who call themselves evangelicals actually think something like ‘If I stopped believing in God, I would want religious people to try to save me from myself, so I better try to save this atheist.’ I never met an atheist who enjoyed listening to the nonsensical ramblings of a believer trying to bring him or her “back into the fold.” Consider the opposite logic: “I’m much happier now that I’ve rejected all this supernatural, talking-snake, wrath-of-god, pro-slavery, rape-condoning theist nonsense, so I should spend my days undermining the belief systems of happy (but ignorant) believers.” Foisting your ideology onto others because YOU think they need to hear it only serves to prove that you are as dumb as a sack of headless turkeys. Golden Rule FAIL!


Treating people as you would like to be treated is like ethics for toddlers – you wouldn’t like it if Jimmy bit you, so don’t bite him! It is a rudimentary understanding of empathy. It’s ethics for SPED class. Not everyone wants to be treated the same way. (Tangent: Some people might argue for restating the Golden Rule as “treat people as they wish to be treated,” but this is equally unsophisticated. Sometimes what’s best for someone (or for society) is not what he wants, as in the Crime example above.) The so-called Golden Rule is a nonsensical basis for ethical action. It’s moral fool’s gold.

Related Posts

Discrediting the Christian Core: The Ten Commandments as a Pathetic Basis for Morality

BS Forms of Exercise and their Athletic Alternatives

Western society is plagued by obesity and general ill-health for many reasons: the raging incompetence of medical professionals; fitness snake-oil salesmen; belief in a variety of health-related myths; and desperate confusion about nutrition to name a few. Another serious problem is that people are generally confused about the meaning of exercise. Here are five non-exercises and their legitimate alternatives.

5. Walking

Unless we’re talking about hiking 40 km (more…)

Parliament/Congress Guilty of Criminal Negligence

A while back, I tried to explain why the world was so screwed up. I explained that the ubiquitous societal problems we experience (bad transit infrastructure, dependence on fossil fuels, unnecessary wars, etc.) stem from a fundamental problems with governance:

    Laws imply the design of the systems that enact them
    Lawmakers don’t know sweet fuck all about the systems their designing
    Lawmakers know even less about how to design complex socio-technical systems

To this list, I would like to add a fourth indictment of lawmakers: they vote on bills without bothering to read them.

How many people have died because of stupid laws and the broken social systems they create? Everyone who ever died in a traffic accident, or in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Vietnam, the Falkland Islands, and dozens of other politically-motivated wars. Everyone who died because they didn’t have medical insurance, because a nurse or physician made an error, or due to an addiction to something they didn’t know was dangerous until it was too late. Millions.

How many have gone to prison for “crimes” that arguably never hurt anybody, like growing marijuana for medical use? How many have just been inconvenienced or screwed over by airport security, border guards, unemployment insurance, etc.

Every member of every Congress, Parliament, Senate, etc. in the world who has voted for a bill without reading it is CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT for the damage that bill has done. For the misery and suffering inflicted by a broken society. To prison with them – all of them. We must start over.

This must not be allowed to continue.

See also:
Why The World is So Screwed Up
A Seven Step Program for Democracy 2.0
How to Hold the Legal System Hostage Until the Laws Apply to Everyone

10 Once Radical Ideas we now take for Granted

Recently someone told me I was a radical. With the minor qualification that ‘radical’ is not the same as crazy, I take this as a compliment. The existential threats humanity faces, and the fundamental problems with our social systems cannot possibly be solved by incremental thinking. Without radicals, we’re screwed.

Want evidence do I have? Well, here are 10 ideas that were once considered radical. I think it’s pretty clear that these don’t seem very radical anymore.

10. Children should be required to attend school. (more…)

The Farce that is the Body Mass Index

I was planning a post for today on why the BMI is bullshit, but Keith Devlin of NPR beat me to it.

To summarize their arguments, the BMI is a 200-year-old mathematical hack, created by a man who wasn’t even versed in the anatomical sciences of the day, let alone what we know now. It is not a meaningful measure (more…)

An Open Letter on the Canadian Big Brother Program

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I have recently read over the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century (IP21C) Act. Giving the police the power to take down online criminals is a virtuous enterprise; however, allowing police to view any internet communication information without a warrant is unacceptable. Bypassing the cheques and balances of the courts in this way is practically begging for corruption and abuse. This clearly contravenes the “right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure” provided by Canada’s Charter.

This makes no sense. If there is evidence of wrongdoing, the police can get a warrant. If there is no evidence of wrongdoing, the police should not be eavesdropping on private communication.

Worse yet, the only people this will work against are those honest Canadians who have nothing to hide. Everyone who has something to hide will encrypt their internet traffic. This can be accomplished with free software and little technical knowledge, at standards unbreakable by practical means.

Your administration is inviting Big Brother through the front door, and history will not view this kindly. Do you truly wish to go down in history as the Prime Minister who ended privacy?